Hashim Thaqi, the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, launched a blistering attack today on the U.N.'s top administrator in Kosovo and demanded that the KLA be given a greater say in governing the province.
"We are not asking for a king," Thaqi said of the U.N. administrator, Bernard Kouchner. "What we are asking for is cooperation."
Thaqi's first visit to the United Nations was coldly received by U.N. officials, who viewed his remarks as an attempt to bolster the KLA's power. They said any attempt by the KLA to challenge the U.N.'s authority in Kosovo would be firmly rebuffed.
"If Thaqi and the KLA continue to have an attitude like this, they are going to have a problem with Kouchner and KFOR," the NATO-led international force in Kosovo, said a senior U.N. diplomat.
Introduced at a news conference by an aide as the prime minister of the provisional government of Kosovo, Thaqi said he was seeking a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to appeal for KLA representation at the United Nations. Annan sent an aide, Kieran Prendergast, to meet with him instead.
In an interview, Thaqi said Kouchner--a former French minister of health and founder of the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders--knows nothing about the realities of life in Kosovo. He faulted Kouchner for providing U.N. jobs to employees of the former Serbian government in Kosovo, neglecting to consult the KLA leadership and failing to resettle ethnic Albanian refugees in their prewar homes in the Serbian section of the town of Mitrovica.
The U.N. has pledged to offer jobs to members of all ethnic groups in the province, and some international officials fear that attempting to resettle ethnic Albanians in Mitrovica would spark violence.
Thaqi also warned that Kosovo's ethnic Albanian residents might "revolt against" Kouchner and the United Nations, were it not for the restraining influence of the KLA. Kouchner "is not respecting the political factors in Kosovo," Thaqi said. "He will have to understand us."
Because the U.S. State Department has maintained good relations with Thaqi, officials here said they hoped that U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, a longtime friend of Kouchner, would come to the administrator's defense.
An aide to Holbrooke said he did so during a meeting today with Thaqi.
"Ambassador Holbrooke reemphasized the international community's support for Bernard Kouchner," said Mary Ellen Glynn, a spokeswoman for Holbrooke. "He said that he is a good person to work with, and he has the backing of the secretary general and the United States."
Conflict between Thaqi and Kouchner may be inevitable. The KLA wants Kosovo to become independent and to be run by the KLA's ethnic Albanian leadership. Kouchner has a mandate from the U.N. Security Council to create a multiethnic democratic government in the province, which remains part of Yugoslavia.
Yet the attack on Kouchner came as a surprise to some U.N. officials, who noted that Kouchner recently agreed to allow the KLA to form a 5,000-strong civil defense corps.
While the U.N. has described it as an engineering corps, the KLA hopes it will become a national army.
In one incident last month that illustrates these mounting tensions, U.N. officials said, KFOR soldiers stopped a vehicle carrying the KLA's shadow "interior minister," searched him, and briefly confiscated his pistol. After checking his identification papers, they returned the weapon. According to U.N. officials, he pulled out a cartridge and said, "This one's for you." He was then arrested.